The Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada 2011 is the race in which McLaren and Ferrari must stake strong claim to Red Bull’s dominant position. Sebastian Vettel has won eight of the last nine races, and if the two legendary teams are to get back into the world championship fight they must beat the machines from Milton Keynes this weekend.
Last year Lewis Hamilton turned the tables for McLaren with a very strong triumph, and he’ll be going all-out for a repeat after his reversals in Monaco.
“Our car should be well suited to this track,” he says. “We have a great engine, the best KERS Hybrid system in the sport and excellent traction out of slow corners. All in all, it’s set to be another good weekend for us - I’ll be looking for a strong result on Sunday.”
Team mate Jenson Button is also fired up after the intervention of the first safety car in Monte Carlo frustrated his run to victory, and finished a good second here after passing Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
“There’s a real momentum within our team at the moment,” he says. “I think we had a race car good enough to win in both Spain and Monaco; with a little improvement to our qualifying, I think we can start to dictate race pace, which was something we were briefly able to show at both of the last two races.
“I’m still very pleased with my performance in Monte-Carlo. It wasn’t a win, but it was nice to lead the race and to be able to pull away comfortably. Even if the result didn’t match it, that sort of thing is always nice to keep at the back of your mind.
“I had a good race in Montreal last year - the car was great in the race and I was able to pull off some nice moves to score our third one-two of the year for the team. I’ve never won in North America and I think we have the pace, the development and the momentum to have a good shot at changing that. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Alonso and team mate Felipe Massa, meanwhile, have been cautiously optimistic after Ferrari’s strong form in Monaco.
“I guess we need to wait for the couple of normal circuits that are coming now,” the Spaniard said after his drive in the Principality. “Even Canada is not a very normal one, with long straights and big stops for the slow corners. So Canada and Valencia will tell us something more but I don’t think that here is a good reference in terms of performance from the cars, because our car is identical to Barcelona and we were two minutes behind there and we were two seconds behind here, so it’s just Monaco, a unique circuit. But we’ll see.”
It goes without saying that Red Bull remain quietly confident, and as usual refuse to make fuss about developments to the hyper-successful Adrian Newey-created RB7.
“The track should provide all the teams with a fresh challenge this year, as it will be the first time we run the cars with a completely different aerodynamic set-up to deal with the long straights, but the RB7 should be pretty tidy,” Vettel suggests. “I qualified on the front row there last year, but it’s a track that Red Bull Racing has yet to crack on Sunday afternoon.”
Historically, the long straights demand the sort of power that Mercedes and Ferrari V8s can muster, rather than Renault, and the track places slightly less emphasis on aerodynamic excellence.
There will be two DRS zones for the first time this season, on the final straight and the front straight with a single detection point exiting the hairpin, though opinion among the teams is divided as to whether the device will be as beneficial on this track as it was in Malaysia and China.
It could be a wet race weekend, with thunderstorms forecast for Thursday, partial cloud with an ambient temperature high of around 20 degrees Celsius on Friday, and showers on Saturday and Sunday, when the temperature will be around 22 and 17 degrees respectively.
On the tyre front, Pirelli will be bringing the same soft and super-soft compound tyres that they took to Monaco, though the likelihood of showers on Saturday and Sunday could add another dramatic twist to the story.
Elsewhere, Sergio Perez, injured in Monaco, is confident that he will be able to resume his Sauber race seat alongside Kamui Kobayashi, as the team shoots to maintain their enviable 2011 points-scoring record, while Vitaly Petrov is fit again at Renault after his knockout in Monaco.
There are a few minor track changes to mention - additional guardrail posts; all tyre barriers that exceed a depth of 2.5 metres have been fitted with an additional conveyor belt across its centre; and the debris fences from Turn Two to Turn Three have been replaced.
Timings will be as normal on Friday, but on Saturday practice and qualifying will each start an hour sooner (1000 hours and 1300 hours local time respectively). The race will run over 70 laps or 305.270 kilometres (189.694 miles) and starts at 1300 hours local time, which is four hours behind GMT.